PSL

Football restarts in virus-hit South Africa with Bloem Celtic, Mamelodi Sundowns victories

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Wandisile Letlabika and Ramasimong Maloisane of Bloemfontein Celtic elbow-greet during the Nedbank Cup Semi Final match between Baroka FC and Bloemfontein Celtic at Orlando Stadium on August 08, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Wandisile Letlabika and Ramasimong Maloisane of Bloemfontein Celtic elbow-greet during the Nedbank Cup Semi Final match between Baroka FC and Bloemfontein Celtic at Orlando Stadium on August 08, 2020 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Gavin Barker

The Premier Soccer League (PSL) resumed on Saturday after a 145-day coronavirus-induced shutdown with Bloemfontein Celtic reaching the Nedbank Cup final behind closed doors.

The semi-final at Orlando Stadium in Soweto saw Celtic score in first-half stoppage time after Baroka had a man sent off, and twice more during the second half for a 3-0 win.

After Namibian Ananias Gebhardt was red-carded for a late, studs-up tackle, captain Ndumiso Mabena put Celtic ahead and substitute Sepana Letsoalo netted twice in the closing stages. 

The teams walked separately on to the pitch, which resembled a dustbowl in parts after several months without rain, then stood still and clapped to honour coronavirus victims.

But unlike footballers in the major European leagues, they did not take a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement that seeks racial equality.

Social distancing was observed after goals with hugging and high fives replaced by fist pumps and dance routines.

Mid-table Absa Premiership club Celtic will face Mamelodi Sundowns who beat Bidvest Wits 3-0 later on Saturday, in the 8 September final.

Celtic, seeking a first triumph since 1985 in the South African equivalent of the English FA Cup, reached the penultimate stage this season on 15 March.

It was the last match staged in the most industrialised African country before a temporary national lockdown was introduced to try and limit the spread of the Covid-19 disease.

Disagreements between the South African Football Association (Safa) and its special member, the Premier Soccer League (PSL), delayed the restart from mid-July to 8 August.

Referees a bone of contention

The fitness of referees was a bone of contention with the PSL insisting the match officials were ready to resume last month and SAFA believing otherwise.

All 57 matches - 54 in the league and three in the cup - will be staged at eight neutral venues in the Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Gauteng is the epicentre of the coronavirus in South Africa, where more than half the one million-plus Covid-19 infections in the continent have occurred.

But SAFA medical officer Thulani Ngwenya said FIFA considered the plan to restart football in South Africa "one of the best it received.

"Provided everyone involved meticulously follows the health protocols, there is only a one percent chance of any infections," Ngwenya predicted.

Players, coaches and officials will leave their hotels only to train and play and sports minister Nathi Mthethwa has warned that if rules are not obeyed, football will be halted.

"It is not a fait accompli that players just get on to the field and perform - they will play based on plans submitted to the department of health," stressed the minister.

"We reserve the right to halt any activity if we feel the protocols and plans are not being adhered to."

The Absa Premiership - the richest league in Africa - resumes on Tuesday with a blockbuster fixture between two title challengers, Sundowns and Orlando Pirates.

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Fixtures
Sat 05 Dec 20 15:30 PM (SAST)
Cape Town City
Orlando Pirates
Cape Town Stadium
Sat 05 Dec 20 15:30 PM (SAST)
Golden Arrows
Swallows
Sugar Ray Xulu Stadium
Sat 05 Dec 20 18:00 PM (SAST)
Tshakhuma FC
AmaZulu
Thohoyandou Stadium
Results
Sun 29 Nov 20
Chippa United 1
Tshakhuma FC 1
Sat 28 Nov 20
AmaZulu 1
Cape Town City 1
Sat 28 Nov 20
Mamelodi Sundowns 3
Stellenbosch 0
Logs
Team
P
W
PTS
1. Mamelodi Sundowns
5
4
13
2. Swallows
5
3
11
3. Orlando Pirates
5
2
9
4. SuperSport United
5
3
9